I spent two hours today, scraping a torn-out paint and plaster out of a wall. Not for the money. For public good. My hosts’ daughter attends the barnehagen (like 90% of kids here between 1 and 5 yo). Ø. got this task assigned by the barnehagen (kindergarten) personnel, as his share of the volunteer work (dugnad) parents normally perform in turns. I was more than happy to go with him and lend him a hand.
The work was fun. Ø. took care of the wood, I started destroying the plastering. Within 2 hours, approximately 10 square meter wall has been stripped off the most of old paint. Some other parent will then be assigned with provisional painting. The barnehage boss told us they plan major rework next year, so it is just a temporary solution.
I was in a very good mood, scraping paint, singing in Polish and English, having basic English conversation with some more curious young Norwegians. In the peak of interest, some five dedicated individuals were beavering out with me, using my spare tools. It was a good practical training for the grandfather’s role.
Then we finished, cleaned after ourselves and left. Nobody said “thank you for assistance”. Nobody asked if we want to wash our hands, use the toilet or have a cup of tea. Our work was taken for granted.
What is Dugnad?
Theoretically, dugnad is “a common work to better the community” – be it a communal help in raising one’s barn, yearly “cleaning of the World” or rendering work for the local kindergarten. Yes, kindergartens (also those private, run as a commercial entities) are the only kind of institutions, namely listed as dugnad beneficiaries in almost every source I found. This was my first clue, showing how extraordinary is the position of barnehagen in contemporary Norway. Then came other hints: the big square in front of a barnehagen, which looks absolutely public, appeared to be “a barnehgen property”, so if you want to park there for few days, you need individual permission from the director. The place for camping, recommended by the local development organization, appears to be unavailable, as it is reserved for the use of another kindergarten – 500 meters away.
Danning like a Jesuit.
Kindergartens are so important, because they are the key tool to provide uniform “danning” (formation,or better in German “bildnung”) of the new generation. There is huge social and political pressure, supported mostly by feminist arguments, to make all mothers bring their kids (in the 1-5 years’ age window) to the institution 5 days a week, for around 8 hours a day. The basic goal of that (as outlined in the report of two Norwegian scientists) is to provide them – in the state-controlled environment – uniform cognitive and emotional formation, as prescribed by the law.
The Jesuits (whose order was strictly banned in Norway from 1814 to 1956) used to say the if they can teach a child for two years before it’s 6 years old, his/her mind will be theirs forever. Apparently, the government learned this lesson well. State-defined, early-age mental formation may be the best way to have generation after generation of highly predictable, well adjusted citizens; with a minimal number of misfits, rebels and oddballs. There is no need for the police state, then.
But what’s in it for the society?
I am far from making any final conclusion. But there is certain pattern I see, attending all local festivals, celebrations and events here. So far, the majority of organizers and participants comes from the old generation. Veterans, pensioners, seniors ofall kinds – they sing, they play, they perform, they support. Mid-aged generation usually performs technical tasks – being rather hired by local institutions, than volunteering. And teenagers (already for some being “institutionalised” in the barnehagen and school) take purely consumer’s position. Only apparently fresh immigrants and some misfits perform individually. There is no young blood in choirs, orchestras, local congregations or clubs. And my initial observations are – so far – supported by the people I talk with.
My suspicious, anarchistic mind tells me that perhaps the state is not so much into supporting local communities. And – maybe – it prefers to have it’s citizens “institutionalized” from the very beginning, in a kindergarten, school, university, workplace – while alienated from their extended families, local social groups and cultural heritage. As I read on certain website:The early «Christian» Kings of Norway used Christianity as a tool to secure power. The most important method to get power was to damage the old, important ancient lineage of the family traditions. By making the individual alone accountable for his acts, and to remove the connection to the family, the «Christian» king was able to erase the old and strong, conservative tradition of jurisprudence associated with the Norse Thing. The way to do this was to force the people to believe in the Christian god. The conservative family tradition had a cohesive function in Norse society and, therefore, it was extremely difficult to make changes in the society. But the philosophy embedded in Christianity was the tool of change – the individual was directly under God and the King. In this way the King secured more power over the people.
Doesn’t it sound similar?